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April Cuts Corners

April Cuts Corners

By Ranger Steve (Mueller)

A blue jay will take a seed and then fly out of sight. By Darren Swim – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2918281

One can learn common behaviors of animals by spending time with them observing. I enjoy horseback riding and learned each horse has unique behaviors. Decades ago, I rode a horse named April and learned she had a habit of cutting corners too tightly when cantering. I needed to head rein her to make wide turns on the trail.

One time when cantering through the Manistee national forest I forgot to make sure she made a wide arch at a curve in the trail until it was too late. She cut close to a tree and I knew my knee was going to hit the tree. Quickly I brought my leg up over the horse’s rump. Not quick enough and when my knee connected with the tree it knocked me off April. I rolled under her summersaulting. April continued on the trail and I rolled forward off the trail.

The person behind me said I went under the horse and it looked like I was getting kicked by the horse’s legs. All the riders stopped as did April. Somehow, she avoided kicking me and my summersaults protected me from injury. I remounted and our trail ride continued. I never forgot on future rides that April cut corners.

Daily, watch bird behavior around the bird feeders. Each species has unique mannerisms for retrieving seeds and eating them. Some take a seed and fly out of sight like the Blue Jay. Finches stay on the feeder to eat seed after seed until they are displaced with aggressive behavior by other birds. Chickadees and titmice take one seed and fly to a nearby branch where they peck through the sunflower hull to gain access to the seed heart. 

Their behavior of pecking breaks the bark on branches. Now that spring has arrived the tree wounds bleed sap. I notice patches of sugar water staining the sidewalk under the sugar maple tree, but I do not see where the bleeding sap stains the leaf cover under the tree. 

We are experiencing freezing nights with warm days. Sap continues to flow upward during the night and seeps from branch wounds. As it drips, the sweet sugar water freezes and forms sapsickles. Birds land on branches, hang down, and drink the sugar water during the day until the sapsickles melt. This winter Common Redpolls are present, and they join in eating the sweet treat. I like tasting the sapsickles when I can reach them.

Spend time watching interesting behavior of different species and possibly even how members of a species act. It is hard to recognize individuals of a species because they look similar. Perhaps you can pick out features that allows individual recognition, like how we recognize different people. Nature niche behavior is unique to species, but individuals also exhibit their own temperaments. 

Park service acquired different horses when I was a ranger at Bryce Canyon National Park. When two new ones arrived, a fellow ranger and I took them out to see how they responded. Dutch was a bit older than Midnight. We took them through their paces to learn behaviors to expect. 

They did well cantering and I decided to ride up a low drainage in a grassy valley where logs were placed as check dams to prevent erosion. As we came to each log, Midnight hurtled the obstacle, but Dutch kicked the top of each. Jim tried to rein the horse out of the drainage to avoid the logs, but Dutch refused and continued to follow me on Midnight. Jim called to me and said get out of the ditch. Dutch was set in his behavior to follow. 

Inexperienced riders preferred Dutch because he was calm and plodded nicely along without incident and was almost a sleepwalker. No surprises from him. LD was also an easy ride, but I did not like taking him because he had a habit of trying to bite the rider in the butt when his hooves were cleaned and struggled to prevent us from lifting his legs. My favorite was Thunder, who had the smoothest ride. Thunder was fearful of objects and, when he saw something unusual like a tree stump or some other unexpected object, he would shy with a quick bolt to the side. It was necessary to always maintain pressure in the stirrups or the rider would be unseated and find himself on the ground. Learning animal behavior helps understand how animals function. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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